I am 33 today and despite my daughter’s concern that I am getting “older” I feel a deeply grateful. Maybe there is a certain wisdom and perspective that comes each year. I’d like to think I am little wiser, a little less controlling and a bit more joyful than I was at 23. And I hope I can say the same 10 years down the line.
Birthdays can be gentle invitations to gratitude, but also painful reminders of what you have lost or what you would have hoped to have. I remember a dear friend telling me how hard it felt to celebrate another year by herself. She was 32 and what she really had hoped for was a birthday surrounded by a husband, a life-long partner.
I have another sweet friend whose own mom died to cancer before she finished elementary school. She once told me, I would give anything to be able to celebrate my birthday with the one who gave birth to me.
I am not sure what’s tougher, birthdays without loved ones who have died or birthdays without someone you had hoped to love.
When you’re a woman who struggles with infertility a birthday is yes, another year of life, but also a painful reminder of a life that you so deeply want to hold, but cant. One friend described each passing year of hoping to be pregnant as “a heaviness that keeps growing in your heart, while nothing grows in your womb.”
Can I just say, if birthdays have felt hard for you, I am so, so sorry. Our culture in general doesn’t do a good job of acknowledging how days typically reserved for celebrations can sometimes also be days filled with sadness. They often go hand-in hand, the celebration and the mourning.
I remember my own birthday at 27. Sitting over hamburgers and beer at my favorite little beachside restaurant, two of my best friends asked me, what I was most looking forward to in the year ahead— a simple and appropriate questions for a birthday dinner. But instead of words, tears came. I couldn’t answer the question, because I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the growing discontentment in my heart. I was chasing a meaningful career and filling my schedule with really good things, but my heart was being pulled elsewhere. It’s funny how your life can be so full, but your heart can feel empty. That was the last birthday I celebrated in California.
This evening after getting home from a fun and loud family dinner at my sister-in-law’s house, complete with tortillas, fresh squeezed limonada, cake and three rounds of “Feliz Cumpleanos,” I carried an over-tired Elena upstairs. It was already way past her bedtime, but I am firm believer that celebrations sometimes trump bedtimes. I tried to brush her teeth and she adamantly demanded to do it “all buh mah-self.” We read, The Giving Tree, one time and I kissed her forehead and told her how much I loved the flowers from her and Daddy. As I stood up, picking up her dirty clothes on the floor, I heard her little voice singing “happy buh-th-day to you” and my heart melted just a bit. I closed the door leaving just an inch of space between the white frame because she likes it when the hall light shines in.
I walked downstairs, carrying the dirty towels from the bathroom and Elena’s clothes, my heart full from the special and yet very ordinary ways that made this birthday wonderful. I started a load of laundry and remembered what a gift it is, nothing short of a modern miracle really, that a machine will wash our clothes while we sleep. I curled up next to my husband on the couch and we commiserated how full we were. I moaned as I stood up and complained how hard it felt to move. “That’s what happens when you’re 33” he joked. He can only say that because for 9 months he will tease me that I am older than him. I got out my coffee thermos for the morning and filled up my pink water bottle and snuck back upstairs to read through Facebook birthday messages and write a bit before bed.
I think my favorite kinds of birthdays are ordinary days sprinkled with thoughtful gifts and affirming words and this birthday started and ended with both. I spent my first 27 birthdays in California and I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend my next 27 here in Guatemala.